Two weeks later, Bianca stared at the computer screen in her office, horrified by what she saw, or rather, by what she didn’t see. The entire magazine layout she’d worked so hard to complete had disappeared. Gone without a trace. Somehow the articles, advertisements, and photographs were missing. The saboteur had struck again.
She looked to the clock on her desk for comfort and found none. The layout needed to be delivered to the printers by midnight or they wouldn’t be able to put the next issue out on schedule. She closed her eyes on a groan and tried to picture the layout in her mind. It might be possible to recreate it in time if she could remember enough details. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a photographic memory.
Back in London she and John put together physical layouts on a giant board, but Sullivan insisted everything needed to be digital. What had he said, something about her living in the dark ages? According to him, they had a back-up system thatneverfailed. So why was she staring at a blank screen?
She grabbed the phone and called Christian to ask for Sullivan’s private number. Before he could answer she remembered Sullivan was out of town on business for Christian. She hung up the receiver and gave her predicament some thought. All of her employees had gone home hours ago. She couldn’t possibly recreate the layout on her own.
A few minutes later Christian barged into her office, face flushed. “Did you just call me and hang up?”
She waved him off. “Whatever you want, I don’t have time.”
“Everything is supposed to be at the printers tonight.” Glaring up at him, she added, “This is all your fault.”
A half-chuckle parted his lips. “How is it my fault?”
“Your assistant insisted I make everything digital.Everythingis backed up, he said. A physical layout board is so old-fashioned, he said. Don’t worry, he said.” She gestured to the computer screen. “Now look! I have nothing.”
He circled around to check the computer himself. After a few tries to find the information he gave up. He shrugged his wide shoulders. “Can’t you make a new layout?”
“Guess I’ll have to, won’t I?” She leaped up from the desk, unable to sit still a second longer and went to the other side. Having a piece of furniture between them made her feel a bit safer. “I don’t know how I’m going to manage. We had it set up perfectly. I don’t remember where everything goes.”
He drummed his fingers on the surface of her desk. “Call your people. Get them back in here, and they can piece it together.”
“I can’t do that. I’ll look incompetent.”
His facial features relaxed into a slow smile. “Let me help you then.”
“You? Are you serious?” Somehow she couldn’t picture Christian doing grunt work. “Do you know anything about the magazine? Have you ever thumbed through a copy?”
“Actually… yes.” His smile widened, and he sat in her chair while giving her an explanation. “When the magazine’s number of subscribers shot up shortly after my father purchased it, I bought a copy. Call it curiosity. I needed to know how my father managed to do the seemingly impossible. I became a regular subscriber then. Read every issue.”
Christian’s admission shocked her and brought a revealing heat to her cheeks. She felt like he’d read her diary, every word. Feeling exposed as if he knew her innermost thoughts, she tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
He went on. “I know how you like it set up, and I can help you put it in order. Gather the articles, the ads, and the photographs, everything you want in the next issue. We’ll figure it from there.”
She hurried from the office and leaned against the wall for a moment to catch her breath. Being in the same room with Christian muddied her brain until she couldn’t think straight. Her resolve to keep things strictly business between them evaporated the second she looked into his green eyes. She tried to tell herself it was purely physical. Before meeting him she’d believed she was immune to lust. Now she was sure no woman with decent eyesight could meet him and not want him. If ever a man was irresistible, Christian was it.
She went into the offices of her editors and staff writers to copy their work to a flashdrive. Then she stopped in the file room to compile physical copies of everything they needed for the next issue. Lastly, she returned to her office to find Christian sitting on the floor with his shoes off, jacket flung over her chair, and tie hanging loose.
He took the folders from her and spread everything on the carpet near his sock-covered feet. Luckily, she had worn slacks today instead of a skirt. She joined him on the floor. They took turns moving the items around until they started to make sense. When it became apparent the task would take hours to complete, they ordered pizza. Before she could stop him, he picked up the article she’d written for the upcoming issue. They’d needed a filler piece, and she thought John deserved a tribute. She held her breath as Christian read it.
His expression went from scoffing to grudging respect. “Beautifully written. If I hadn’t known him, I would think he was a saint.” With a grim twist to his mouth, he scrutinized her, staring as if she were under a microscope. “You’ve lost a lot of people, haven’t you?”
She wrinkled her nose. “I hate the wordlost. Sounds like they can be found again.”
Her parents, grandparents, a high school boyfriend, and now John had all died on her. Sometimes she felt like she had the worst luck in the world when it came to relationships. Perhaps she was meant to be alone.
“It’s a good article,” he said while placing it between an ad for perfume and letters to the editor near the end. “You should write more often.”
She moved the article to the front of the magazine, feeling John deserved a prominent place. “Has anyone close to you died?”
Bianca realized she’d never seen him like this before, stripped-down, close to vulnerable. For the first time since they’d met she felt like she could talk to him openly about anything. She wanted to connect with him on a deeper level.
He gestured to the article. “You mean, besides my father?” He shrugged. “Other than him, no. Nobody in my life has died. I’ve never lost anyone important to me.”
On the surface that was a good thing, but for some reason it made her sad. It occurred to her that he wasn’t close to anyone. He didn’t allow himself to get close to people. Instead, he hid behind a caricature of a ruthless man intent on destroying those that got in his way. Despite that, she wanted to get to know the real Christian Sabatino, flaws and all.